Toward the Minor in Sexuality and Queer Studies: 1995, ’96-’97, 2002-11

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First offered in academic year 2011-12, the undergraduate interdisciplinary minor in Sexuality and Queer Studies, earned within the Women’s and Gender Studies program, offers students the opportunity to examine socially and historically specific experiences, meanings, and representations of sexuality and gender and the centrality of sexuality and gender to personal and collective identities in modernity.

Profs. Thomas A. King (ENG, WGS) and Paul Morrison (ENG) first drafted a proposal for a Joint M.A. in English and American Literature and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies in June 1995.  The proposal remarked the already established presence of major academic presses offering journals and book series in the field of LGBT studies and the number of graduate students wanting to pursue graduate research in the field.  In 1996-97 King organized a “cluster” of undergraduate courses in Sexualities and Societies, which included courses taught by Bernadette J. Brooten (NEJS, WGS), Stephen Gendzier (COML), Karen Hansen (SOC, WGS), Erica Harth (COML, WGS), Alice Kelikian (HIST), King, Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow (CLAS, WGS), Sarah Lamb (ANTH, WGS), Morrison, Joan Ruttenberg (LGLS), and Martha Siegel (LGLS).

Between 2002 and 2009, Profs. Brooten, King, Susan S. Lanser (COML, ENG, WGS), Jim Mandrell (HISP, WGS), and Morrison, later joined by Profs. Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman (ENG, AAAS), Lamb, and ChaeRan Freeze (NEJS), explored the possibility of mounting a stand-alone interdepartmental program in LGBT, sexuality, and/or queer studies at Brandeis; they brought an initial proposal for a stand-alone interdepartmental program in Sexuality Studies to the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (UCC) in February 2004.  Although sponsoring faculty tabled the initial proposal due to concern about the lack of courses available to students in the social sciences and creative arts (the majority of LGBT/queer studies courses being offered by humanities faculty at that time), new momentum followed support for a minor in Sexuality Studies from WGS core faculty in 2009-10 and its commitment to developing additional courses in gender, sexuality, and queer studies.  Reconceived in 2010-11 as an interdisciplinary minor in Sexuality and Queer Studies, administered by Women’s and Gender Studies and with an expanded program faculty, a new proposal was brought to and approved by the UCC and school councils in March 2011.

The undergraduate interdisciplinary minor in Sexuality and Queer Studies was approved by the full faculty in May 2011 and graduated its first students in May 2012.

The genesis of the minor in Sexuality and Queer Studies parallels ongoing and still vital attempts by women’s, feminist, women of color feminist, LGBTIA, trans*, and queer studies scholars, all representing differing if sometimes overlapping constituencies, to navigate the sometimes contentious relations among these fields.  Brandeis faculty considered such question as: Should the program be called “LGBT Studies,” “Sexuality Studies” or “Queer Studies”?  Given that WGS already included a focus on gender, how could the new interdisciplinary minor acknowledge its commitments to gender and trans*gender studies?  Would “LGBT Studies” invoke a universalizing, US-centric model of identity politics, one that queer studies had already challenged? On the other hand, would the term “queer” falsely universalize the program and make women and trans*persons invisible?

The undergraduate interdisciplinary minor in Sexuality and Queer Studies encourages exploration in three areas: (1) sexuality studies, including but not limited to the histories and study of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and asexual community formation, representation, and legal/civil rights activism; (2) gender and trans*gender studies, including intersex, transsexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, and genderqueer community formation, representation, struggle for private and public accommodations, and legal/civil rights activism; and (3) queer studies, which both grew out of and departed from LGBTIA studies, and now enfolds a variety of projects united primarily through the critical analysis of the binarisms underwriting ideologies and taken to be natural and/or given (not only male/female, heterosexual/homosexual, and monosexual/bisexual but also such binarisms as private/public, inside/outside, nature/culture, authentic/artificial, white/nonwhite, human/animal, and belonging/alienation.

The minor thereby responds to historical developments in the field(s) of Sexuality and Queer Studies, from the liberatory focus of “Lesbian and Gay Studies,” an outgrowth of identity politics in the 1970s and 1980s, to the critical stance of “Queer Studies,” beginning at the turn of the 1990s, which reclaimed the stigmatizing term “queer” to name resistance to heteronormativity and (what a new generation of activists and academics perceived to be) the assimilationist strategies of predominantly white, cisgender, middle class lesbian and gay rights organizations.  Most recently, scholars have expanded the term “queer” to name resistant and non-binaristic strategies of knowledge production, identification, and cultural practice.

Source: “Proposal for an Interdisciplinary Minor in Sexuality and Queer Studies, to be offered within Women’s and Gender Studies,” SQS Program Faculty, Chair, Thomas A. King, 1 March 2011.